DETROIT: Admitting publicly for the first time what the company’s critics have been saying for over a year, a top Coca-Cola PR exec has conceded that the soft-drink giant didn’t react quickly enough to last year’s contamination crisis in Belgium.
DETROIT: Admitting publicly for the first time what the company’s
critics have been saying for over a year, a top Coca-Cola PR exec has
conceded that the soft-drink giant didn’t react quickly enough to last
year’s contamination crisis in Belgium.
In an address at the Michigan PRSA State Conference on May 11, director
of corporate media relations and global communications Robert Baskin
admitted that Coke’s first error was not having a senior executive
readily available for comment and reassurance.
’We weren’t as quick off the mark as we needed to be,’ he said. ’Our CEO
could have been there sooner. Corporations are faceless, and people need
to see a human being standing in front of them saying ’we made a
However, Baskin added that since-departed Coke CEO Doug Ivester’s
decision not to speak up about the crisis in its early hours was made at
the request of the Belgian government, which asked the company to take a
low-key communications approach.
The Belgian recall cost Coke dollars 400 million, complicated government
relations in Europe and further scarred the company’s worldwide image.
Most industry watchers also believe that the contamination crisis
precipitated Ivester’s departure from the top spot, although Baskin said
the decision was made by Ivester alone.
Baskin added that the Belgian crisis convinced Coke of the importance of
developing closer ties with media in other countries. ’There’s no
substitute for relationships,’ he said. ’The reporters we knew and knew
well were fair. You’d better know your reporters, because if you don’t,
it will come back to haunt you.’
At the height of the recall crisis, Coke was fielding 300 to 400 media
calls a day at its Atlanta headquarters, compared to the usual 30.
The press frenzy became so extreme that Baskin received calls from 30
different Reuters reporters during a single day.
Since the crisis, Coke has hired Carl Ware and Charles Holleran as its
top two PR execs.